[two-thirds]The 2016 humpback whale winter breeding season was one to remember – but possibly for all the wrong reasons! For those who have dedicated their professional lives to studying humpbacks, the winter of 2016 was noticeably different in terms of overall whale numbers, behaviors, and migration patterns – and this trend was noticed across the entire Pacific Ocean. In a recent article published in Hakai Magazine, Ilima Loomis dives into what researchers (including Whale Trust researchers) observed this year and if this change should be a cause for alarm.
Researchers from across the Pacific reported a reduction in the number of mother and calves, longer downtimes, unusual arrival and departure patterns, and an apparent decrease in surface activity. Coupled with an usually high die-off of large whales in Alaska the previous summer, we are now left trying to figure out why these changes occurred. Were these changes related to the El Nino (the strongest on record), compromised food quality, fewer successful pregnancies overall, and/or fewer females making the migration to the breeding grounds?
While we don’t know the answer to these questions yet, this unusual event has served as a potent reminder that even rebounding populations are at risk and reiterates the need for annual systematic surveys to assess and monitor populations. Whale Trust researchers are currently designing a new annual monitoring study of humpbacks off the coast of Maui to complement their ongoing behavioral research into humpback whale breeding societies.[/two-thirds]